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HEALTH

Coronavirus: Spike in reports of ‘racist’ abuse of Chinese people in Italy

Prominent figures in Chinese communities in Italy warned on Thursday of episodes of "latent racism" against their compatriots by Italians fearful of a deadly virus which originated in China.

Coronavirus: Spike in reports of 'racist' abuse of Chinese people in Italy
Chinese passengers at Rome's Fiumicino airport this week. Photo: AFP

There have been no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Italy at the time of writing.

Tensions increased after some 7,000 people were held on a cruise ship in an Italian port following the isolation of two Chinese passengers over fears they could be carrying the coronavirus, despite preliminary tests coming up negative.

READ ALSO: How concerned should you be about the coronavirus in Italy?

Italian newspapers have reported cases of bullying or discrimination against Chinese people following the outbreak of the disease, which has now killed 170 in China and has spread abroad, with at least 15 countries confirming infections.

“It's extremely unpleasant, absurd, and infuriating,” Francesco Wu, a member of the Italian Business Association Confcommercio, often called on to speak for the 30,000-strong Chinese community in Milan, told La Stampa daily.

Racist episodes reportedly included Chinese tourists being spat at in Venice, a family in Turin being accused of carrying the disease, and mothers in Milan using social media to call for Italian children to be kept away from Chinese classmates.

“It's totally unjustified and it hurts even more because it involves children. It's a mix of ignorance and latent racism,” Wu said.

Photo: AFP

Local health officials have sent the schools concerned a letter stating that “there is no need to introduce measures restricting the presence of Chinese children within school communities,” according to AGI.

Chinese journalist Hu Lanbo, who has lived in Italy for 30 years and who runs the “China in Italy” monthly, published an open letter “to Italian friends”.

READ ALSO: Telling migrants to “go home” is racism, rules Italy's top court

“Believing that one can catch the new coronavirus at the mere sight of a Chinese person really makes no sense,” she said.

There were some 300,000 Chinese nationals living in Italy at the end of 2018, according to the National Statistics Institute (Istat).

Milan mayor Giuseppe Sala said Chinese tourism – worth some 300 million euros ($331,000) a month to the city between hotels, shopping and restaurants – was down 40 percent compared to before the virus.

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COVID-19 RULES

Is Italy’s government planning to scrap all Covid measures?

The new Italian government has announced the end of some remaining Covid health measures. Here's a look at what will - and won't - change.

Is Italy’s government planning to scrap all Covid measures?

Few Covid-related restrictions remain in Italy today, six months after the nationwide ‘state of emergency’ ended.

The previous government had kept only a handful of precautionary measures in place – which the new government, led by Giorgia Meloni, must now decide whether or not to keep.

The cabinet is holding a meeting on Monday and will issue a decree this week detailing any changes to the health measures.

Many expect the government to scrap all measures entirely by the end of the year, after Meloni and her party criticised the way Mario Draghi’s administration handled the pandemic throughout its tenure. 

Meloni clearly stated in her first address to parliament last Tuesday that “we will not replicate the model of the previous government” when it comes to managing Covid.

READ ALSO: Five key points from Meloni’s first speech as new Italian PM

While she acknowledged that Italy could be hit by another Covid wave, or another pandemic, she did not say how her government would deal with it.

Meanwhile, new health minister Orazio Schillaci issued a statement on Friday confirming the end of several existing measures, saying he “considers it appropriate to initiate a progressive return to normality in activities and behaviour”.

Workplace ban for unvaccinated medical staff

Schillaci confirmed that the ministry will allow doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals to return to work after being suspended because they refuse to get vaccinated against Covid-19.

Those who refuse vaccination will be “reintegrated” into the workforce before the rule expires at the end of this year, as part of what the minister called a “gradual return to normality”.

They will be allowed to return “in light of the worrying shortage of medical and health personnel” and “considering the trend of Covid infections”, the statement said.

Fines issued to healthcare staff aged over 50 who refused vaccination would also be cancelled, it added.

There were some 1,579 doctors and dentists refusing vaccination at the end of October, representing 0.3 percent of all those registered with Italy’s National Federation of the Orders of Physicians, Surgeons and Dentists (Fnomceo) 

Daily Covid data reports

Schillaci also confirmed in the statement that the health ministry will no longer release daily updates on Covid-19 contagion rates, hospital cases and deaths, saying this would be replaced by a weekly update.

It said it would however make the data available at any time to relevant authorities.

Mask requirement in hospitals to stay?

The requirement to wear face masks in hospitals, care homes and other healthcare facilities expires on Monday, October 31st.

At a meeting on the same day the government is expected to decide whether to extend the measure.

READ ALSO: What can we expect from Italy’s new government?

While the government had looked at scrapping the requirement, it reportedly changed stance at the last minute on Monday after facing heavy criticism from health experts.

Media reports published while the meeting was in progress on Monday said government sources had indicated the measure would in fact be extended.

Confirmation is expected to come later on Monday.

Italy’s face mask rules in care homes and healthcare facilities are up for renewal. Photo by Thierry ZOCCOLAN / AFP

‘Green pass’ health certificate

There is no indication that the new government plans to bring back any requirements to show a ‘green pass’: the digital certificate proving vaccination against or recent recovery from Covid, or a negative test result.

The pass is currently only required for entry to healthcare facilities and care homes, and this is expected to remain the case.

‘Dismantling the measures’

Some of the confirmed changes were strongly criticised by Italy’s most prominent healthcare experts.

Head of the Gimbe association for evidence-based medicine, Nino Cartabellotta, said the focus on cancelling fines for unvaccinated healthcare workers was “irrelevant from a health point of view .. but unscientific and highly diseducative”.

He told news agency Ansa it was “absolutely legitimate” for a new government to discontinue the previous administration’s measures, but that this “must also be used to improve everything that the previous government was unable to do”.

The government should prioritise “more analytical collection of data on hospitalised patients, investments in ventilation systems for enclosed rooms … accelerating coverage with vaccine boosters,” he said.

However, the plan at the moment appeared to be “a mere dismantling of the measures in place,” he said, “in the illusory attempt to consign the pandemic to oblivion, ignoring the recommendations of the international public health authorities”.

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